Looking to Be Literate

Alda Balthrop-Lewis, Production Intern

Over the past week I have been travelling. I must make a choice about my education, and I have been visiting the schools I am considering attending, asking questions of their students, staff, and faculty.

People who study religion are often full of questions.  So at The Divinity School of the University of Chicago someone raised the following: “What resources do you have for frustrated Catholic women?”  There turned out to be a bevy of enthusiastic resources: a nun, a professor, three students, and an administrator each spoke up, excited at the chance to start a discussion about the role of women in the Catholic Church.  One Episcopal male student shouted, “You should convert!”  The nun described a woman who had carved a church leadership position for herself without being ordained.  The professor was still searching for an answer herself.

At Harvard Divinity School I spoke with John D. Spalding about his SoMA Review, which he founded in part because he couldn’t find a good platform for his slightly tongue-in-cheek articles on religion, politics, and culture.  He is now its editor, and contributors include our own Krista Tippett.  Also at Harvard, I visited a class taught by Harvey Cox about religious fundamentalism and politics (you can hear him on our program Beyond the Atheism-Religion Divide). I looked for a book by David Ford, director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, in Harvard’s enormous library system; I found it.

All the travelling and talking about the study of religion and writing and ministry has left me tired and excited and thinking about what it means to be literate in religion. Stephen Prothero wrote a book last year called Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t. It documents some scary statistics about what we Americans don’t know about the basic tenets of the world’s major religions, and discusses the peril of maintaining such ignorance.

Inspired to the goal of being religiously literate, I am determined to learn more, to become competent in discussing religions in all their deep complexities. Luckily for me, there are thriving communities of people working on this project together. I’ll be joining one come fall, and I can’t wait.

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